This week in Young, Hungry and Committed, virtual office New York attorney Vivian Sobers realizes that clients will still retain you, even when you say No.
There. I said it.
Repeat it after me. “No!”
I used to be deathly afraid of the word No. If I even had the courage to say it, it emerged in a whispered tone, barely audible, almost as if my esophagus was trying stifle its potential power. It was an involuntary hiccup rather than a powerful statement.
I recently learned the power of enunciating the word “No.” And let me tell you, such a small word has provided me with an immense amount of joy.
As solo attorneys, we operate under the false truth that our livelihood depends on the word “Yes”.
Saying Yes Allowed Me to Feel Busy.
I used to say Yes to anything. If a client did not show up to a consultation they had begged for last minute, I would always answer Yes, when it came to rescheduling.
Like Pavlov’s dog, I soon began to associate the word Yes with money. Yes kept clients happy. Yes kept my lights on. Yes kept food in my refrigerator.
Above all, saying Yes validated my decision to pursue solo practice directly after law school. I was validated that I actually had the opportunity to say Yes to something. Saying Yes to a case that may have been a bad fit was better than not having the opportunity to say Yes at all.
As I continued to say Yes, the word No became less and less realistic to me. If I would drive 6 hours to Rochester for 3 per diem appearances, why would I say No to a per diem appearance in Staten Island for half the money?
Yes became my Achilles heel. One word was running me ragged.
One Client Taught Me the Power of No.
I remember the day I reintroduced No into my vocabulary. I had this one client. You know, that client. Everyone has that client. The client that breaks the social contract and contacts you at all hours of the day and night with ridiculous questions. The client who erroneously believes that every law degree comes complete with BA in psychology. The client who has an emergency and needs to see you 10 minutes ago but conveniently forgets their check book. You know? That client.
Well that client had exhausted her already discounted retainer (I said Yes to that request, against my better judgment). I made many demands for her to replenish the retainer. Yet, that client expected the services to continue. I assented with a nonverbal Yes three times and picked up her phone calls, dispensing free advice each time. I was losing money and self-respect with every incoming phone call.
I realized she was using me. I was letting myself be used because I was afraid to say No.
The phone rang, again. I checked the caller ID. It was that client.
What happened next was an out-of body experience. It was like the spirit of acquiescence left my body and I had no control over the sounds emerging from my lips. Standing up for myself, the word “No” emerged in many derivations along with the clause “until you pay me.”
After I hung up the phone, I was scared. I was scared that I had just lost a client. I didn’t say anything in a mean or rude tone. I simply said No. Recalling the conversation over and over in my mind, I felt powerless and insecure.
I said No, and the client understood. Even if I didn’t.
A funny thing happened the next day. That client called me. She wanted to schedule an appointment to replenish the retainer. This was an appointment she did not cancel. She showed up on time, with a cashier’s check.
It’s funny, how a word with so few letters can convey such meaning.
It was that moment when I learned the power of No. And, as my career progresses, I continue to realize the value of saying No.
Sometimes, when you say No, you are actually saying yes to yourself. You are allowing yourself to do something more, to be something more, than a dispenser of advice. Something more than a solver a problems. Something more than a lawyer on someone else’s schedule. Learning to say No has allowed me to be a lawyer for me: A solo attorney on my own terms.
My name is Vivian Sobers, I am young, hungry and finally saying NO. I have weathered one year of challenges in private practice. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, I am committed to replicating my success for many years to come.
Vivian Sobers is a commercial litigator pursuing a solo law practice right out of law school. She is a client in Law Firm Suites’ Virtual Office Program. Vivian’s weekly blog series “Young, Hungry and Committed” documents the trials and tribulations of a young attorney navigating her way through the challenging world of self-employed legal practice.